Review: Spectre

 

2.5 stars

Like every James Bond film, Spectre opens with the secret agent defying death. But before he jumps across rooftops and fires off bullets, he defies death in a smooth, elegant way — strutting through a sea of skeletons flooding the streets of Mexico City during its Day of the Dead parade. This opening shot is a reminder of what director Sam Mendes achieved in the last Bond film, Skyfall — he swept us up with majestic, metaphorical imagery. Unfortunately, the reminders of that great Bond film stop there.

Spectre is not a flat-out bad Bond movie, but it shrivels in the shadow of other films in the franchise. While Casino Royale and Skyfall added emotional heft between the action set pieces, Spectre is thin on drama.

As in many Bond films, the plot feels elaborate and bloated. Let's just say it revolves around Bond's investigation of a criminal organization called Spectre. The leader turns out to be his brother (Christoph Waltz) and the man behind virtually all of his troubles, professional and personal. (This isn't a spoiler; the trailer gives away this discovery.)

The revelation that the villain is "the author of all Bond's pain" doesn't carry as much emotional weight as it should. Waltz delivers this information with velvety menace, but it ultimately feels like a footnote in the midst of the popcorn fare.

Like the Great and Powerful Oz, Waltz's character is the man behind the curtain at the end of a long and winding road. He is presented as Bond's last foe. On top of that, Bond's love interest (Léa Seydoux) is seemingly "the one" — the girl who will pull him out of his lethal lifestyle. However, these characters don't get enough depth or screen time to take up so much room in Bond's heart.

Although Spectre explores love and tragedy, it ends up feeling rushed and shallow. It probably seems silly to criticize a film for being shallow when it's part of a series in which a super spy sleeps with a ton of women in between explosions and gunplay. But Bond is different now.

Casino Royale and Skyfall showed us a secret agent who looks in the mirror and sees a monster. Those films allowed Bond to breathe and have quiet moments of reflection. Spectre seems to be in a hurry when it comes time to inject its story with raw humanity.

For most moviegoers, seeing Bond films is a sacred tradition. We feel a sense of duty to see what he's up to in the same way that we feel obligated to stuff our faces with turkey on Thanksgiving. In terms of hearty escapism Spectre delivers the goods — a brutal fist-fight on a train, a car chase through the cobblestone streets of Rome, an air attack over the Austrian Alps. It's a fun time at the movies, but it doesn't give viewers the same shiver of excitement that Casino Royale and Skyfall evoked — the shiver of seeing human drama play out in the middle of popcorn spectacles.

Showing: in wide release

Rated: PG-13

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